Owls Flying On and Off the Court

Dan talking to his players on the bench during a game.

Recruiting is the first part of building a college basketball roster. Establishing trust, buying into the system and creating a culture comes next. Players with diverse backgrounds, from all over the country, need to come together as one. The coach recruits them to play basketball. There are some coaches who go beyond that and want their players to have successful lives as students, athletes and as people. Daniel Kane, second-year head coach and athletic director at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, brings his players together with honesty, commitment and trust.

Dan was a college player before coaching. He realized he wanted to coach when he knew that he wouldn’t become a professional player. “I’ve played pretty much every role on a team you can possibly play. In college, I went from a player that didn’t play at all–the last guy on the bench–to coming off the bench and playing a lot and then becoming a starter.”

Dan’s time as a player and college student helps him empathize with his players. “It gives me a sense of appreciation for everyone’s roles on the team.” This appreciation and honesty help the players trust him. “It’s not always going to be what they want to hear, but I try to be as honest as possible. The biggest thing about being a college coach is getting your team to trust you and buy in,” Dan said.

The trust then leads to the players buying into the culture that Dan is trying to create. This culture not only leads to a cohesive team, but also leads to the players having responsibilities off the court. “Family and religion first, school second and basketball third. We’re trying to get them to buy into the dedication that a championship is not just two hours day: it’s with everything you do,” Dan said. Trust and buying into the culture make the Owls’ players successful student athletes.  But first they need to be recruited. Dan persuades them to come to Presque Isle, out of all the places they could go.

Dan tells his players the truth. “UMPI is the place to come if you want to play basketball, focus on academics and earn a degree at an affordable price. We don’t have the newest gym or the newest dorms. I tell them about the atmosphere and the environment on campus,” Dan said.

Dan also wants to recruit players who fit the team’s chemistry and his will to win. “We try to recruit the best players we can find that we also think are good guys that are going to fit our system well. It doesn’t matter where they are from. It depends on what their personality and work ethic and how we think they will mesh with the coaching staff and other players.”

UMPI President Ray Rice admires Dan’s ability to build a team. “He can match the kind of players with the style of play he wants and ensures building a community between the players.”

In Dan’s first year at UMPI, there were only four players committed to the team. “I only had a couple months to find players before school started. I went to my old contacts to find people that didn’t have a home.” This led to the recruitment of mainstay players DeAndre Duncombe and Wilburn Griffiths from Florida.

The travel that goes with recruiting is grating. While coaching at Connecticut College, Dan spent two weeks traveling to recruit players. The travelling went in this order: Farmington to Boston, to Springfield, back to Boston, flew from Boston to Florida for two days, flew back to Boston, drove to New York, slept for six hours, drove four hours to Pennsylvania and then drove back to Portland, Maine. “I haven’t stopped drinking coffee ever since,” Dan said.

UMPI’s basketball culture has changed drastically in the past two years. The team is now part of the Northern Atlantic Conference. Being part of the NAC enables the team to participate in the NCAA tournament. The team now plays half of its games at home, when before it was a third or fewer. The campus and the community also get more involved with more home games. The players do not have to travel as much and can focus on their academics more.

Ray Rice praises Dan’s ability both as a mentor and an athletic director for these great changes. One of his stories encapsulates the cohesion of the team. “I drove a player and his mom from the Bangor airport up to campus. It was just after Christmastime. The minute we got out of the car, all these other players came out of the dorms. They were all saying hi and talking to the player and his mother,” Ray said.

Basketball is important, but school and family come first. Honesty helps establish trust.  Trust helps build a winning culture. The culture leads to the players dedicating themselves to life outside of sports. Dan’s motivation to turn his players into men who enjoy basketball, but also life, goes like this. “I want my players to graduate.  I want them to enjoy their college playing experience as much as I did because it really was the greatest experience I ever had. I want them to have guys on the team that are their lifelong friends. And then, obviously, we want to win.”